Music Reviews

L-XIII: Obsidian

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jan 31 2017
Artist: L-XIII (@)
Title: Obsidian
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
L-XIII is the solo project of Neil DeRosa from Salem Massachusetts. Well, you know what Salem is known for, but Neil is also a member of another (numbered) band from there- 1476, along with singer/guitarist Robb Kavjian. (Neil plays drums in that outfit.) In order to get some background on Mr. DeRosa, I had to spend some time tracking down and listening to 1476. Of the three albums I heard - 'Wildwood/The Nightside', 'Smoke In The Sky', 'Edgar Allan Poe: A Life Of Hope & Despair', I found them all to be quite different from each other, exhibiting some eclecticism, sounding at times like Nick Cave (sans the rich baritone), Echo & the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Death in June, and similar artists. Kavjian has a very good voice, and the songwriting is competent. The 'Edgar Allan Poe...' album was the most different being primarily piano (rather than guitar) based, neoclassical in flavor with passages of dark ambient. So now I think I know at least where Neil is coming from.

I must say that the first thing that struck me is that 'Obsidian' is nicely packaged. I like the purplish blue-black color scheme; the DVD style case, and the accompanying cardstock sheets that came with it. That's the standard edition of this work; the "Special Edition" (limited to 9 copies) is even more elaborate. I'll leave the details on that one for Neil to explain if you want to contact him, but only will say that a real obsidian stone is included in the packaging. In the promotional materials Neil goes into detail about the name of this EP, 'Obsidian', explaining the properties of obsidian stone and why he used it in a spiritual meditation ritual. Neil states, "This EP was a snapshot into a really uncomfortable place while trying to perform a surgery for the soul while felling around in the dark." Okay then let's see what the music has to say.

The opener on this 5-track instrumental EP is the title track "Obsidian," and what we get is bass drone with some light semi-sparse piano chords and muffled drums that sound like they were recorded underwater. Kind of atmospheric, kind of amorphous. "Ritual Smoke" begins with some sequenced bellish synth, then a rudimentary piano arpeggio. Heavy bass rumbles in the background, and then the thundering drums come in. A slow lead synth adds some melody. Overall, it sounded like an instrumental demo from a would-be 4AD band that didn't land the contract. On "Black Mirror" the piano is a bit more adventurous and so is the (electronically processed) drumming. Choir-like synths provide some ambience. Although not really dark ambient, there are elements, but I'd be more inclined to call this Gothic. More neoclassical piano arpeggios on "Belgrave Rooftop" with that ersatz choir synth sound back again. It's nearly midway through before any rhythm comes in, and after a pause the drums pick up, and you really know that this was done by a drummer, as it's the most elaborate element of the music. Last track, "Blinding Light" is the most eerie and interesting thing on this EP. The rather elongated and sustained lead synth sounds like a spooky harmonica ('Once Upon a Time in the West' style), the piano playing is more effective, the drumming more coordinated and the piece better orchestrated in total. My feeling about it though is that it could have been developed even further.

My overall assessment of 'Obsidian' is that it's really only demo quality in recording and composition. While the music might make a nice soundtrack for a noirish film, by itself it lacks substance. That's a shame considering all the effort put into the packaging. While the 1476 band seems to put a lot of effort into their music, DeRosa's fist solo effort seems to fall short by comparison. Perhaps his next one will hit the mark.

Ataraxia: Deep Blue Firmament

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jan 10 2017
Artist: Ataraxia (@)
Title: Deep Blue Firmament
Format: CD
Label: Sleaszy Rider Records (@)
Rated: *****
The Italian neoclassical darkwave band Ataraxia has been around since 1985, and has had at least 25 albums prior to 'Deep Blue Firmament,' this being their 26th. In all that time I've heard of, but never really heard Ataraxia. Shame on me. I have no idea why they've eluded me. Really, I should have picked up one of their CDs at least. I have no good excuse. But now I have 'Deep Blue Firmament,' and from the smatteri9ng of their discography I went back to listen to, this seems to be one of their best, if not their best yet. Not to say they haven't done some really nice work in the past, but they've matured and so has their music. With Francesca Nicoli (vocals), Vittorio Vandelli (guitars, bass, backing vocals), Giovanni Pagliari (keyboards, vocals), Riccardo Spaggiari (drums, percussion), and Totem Bara (cello on a few tracks) these folks make music that's absolutely magical on 'Deep Blue Firmament'. They sound fuller and more adept than ever before, The opening track "Delphi" is lushly orchestrated with group vocals that sound like a chorale from another age. Several of the songs have lyrics by poet William Butler Yeats, the others with lyrics by Francesca. At times Francesca's voice is operatic, without convention of opera. At others, just simply mystically folky. Even the male vocals (when they occur) are quite enjoyable. However, it's the elaborate orchestration Ataraxia uses that sets this band apart. Sometimes they almost seem to make Dead Can Dance sound pedestrian in comparison. Even though songs are sung in English, French and Italian, this band is very Italian in flavor. 'Deep Blue Firmament' explores a variety of moods, and although mostly melancholy as dark wave bands tend to be, they never come off as morose. Well beyond bands like This Mortal Coil or Love is Colder Than Death. For those looking for quality Gothic music that has been crafted to perfection, I highly recommend this. Definitely a cut above.

X-Bax: 'Twas The Night Before X-Bax

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 22 2016
Artist: X-Bax
Title: 'Twas The Night Before X-Bax
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records (@)
If you really think Christmas music is all Mariah Carey and Bing Crosby, think again. Admittedly it’s only the misleading track and EP titles that make this a ‘Christmas record’ in any way shape or form, which does seem to be cheating somewhat, but here’s a ‘festive’ (= not festive at all) release from Silber to scare your granny during Christmas dinner.

The centrepiece of the EP is fourteen-minute atmospheric epic “Panamanian Snow”, bolstered by five minutes of other bits & pieces. “Panamanian Snow” is a distant, ominous industrial hammering, a drone that’s part distant machinery part super-deep string instrument part synthesizer, and the supremely slow build-up of closer, smaller impacts and claps. After almost eight minutes a bell tolls, an implication of a change that doesn’t come; the industry continues unabated.

The opening two tracks “We Three Kings” and “Five Golden Rings” (which segue and are essentially the same piece with an arbitrary track break in the middle) are an overture of sorts, standalone discordant guitar power chords, sustained and distorted in an unsettling pattern.

Final track “Epiphany” is an anachronistic and playful guitar piece, starting from random flanges and fret slides before embarking on a simple riff that for a moment suggests this EP is ABOUT TO ROCK (get your index and little fingers ready) before looping and sustaining with an effect that’s a little like repeating the same word over and over so often that you start questioning how it sounds and it detaches from what it means.

Give me this over “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” any day.

Dyr Faser: Dyr Faser

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 20 2016
Artist: Dyr Faser
Title: Dyr Faser
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records (@)
Many of the Silber “5 in 5” series releases I’ve heard to date have been drones, atmospheres and noises. This seemingly self-titled “Dyr Faser” release is the closest to ‘pop’ I’ve heard them come. It’s a lo-fi, muddy collection of five miniature pop songs, all packed into one minute doses (well some of them go several seconds over that but who’s counting?) There’s a swaggering lethargy to some of it, like a grumpy New Order bumping into a drunk Depeche Mode in 1986. The lo-fi production gives you a slightly thin sound, with vocals bathed in reverb and heavy use of stereo separation that’s faintly discomforting.

Both “Just A Face” and “Only The Dark And I” sound like the first minute of longer songs abandoned or unfinished. “Until Then You” is a riff and soft breakbeat. “To Be Desired” has an interesting groove that’s got hints of the 1960’s White Noise experimental protopunk-with-oscillators over which a guitar wanders, ad libbing in search of a riff.

Particularly on “Take The One”, the combination of psychedelic effects, rough-edged electronics and thin-sounding twangy guitar is reminiscent of the before-they-were-famous sound of The Shamen, but without the catchy hooks that propelled that band into an utterly different world.

The Silber “5 in 5” concept series suits some artists better than others. There are some interesting ideas and definite potential swilling around, but unfortunately rather than feeling like a complete five-minute work, this is one of those that feels like a teasing sampler to build interest in their longer EP’s on Bandcamp.

Heathen Apostles: Albatross

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 19 2016
Artist: Heathen Apostles (@)
Title: Albatross
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ratchet Blade Records (@)
The Heathen Apostles take a central core of faithful Americana and murder ballad arrangements and give things a slightly stylish, faintly gothic twist. “Albatross” is a one-track single and while their discography has several remixes and electronica elements in it, this is a straight-up three-minute 3 / 4 song featuring slightly Chrissie Hynde-like vocals over a folksy arrangement of violins and mandolins that would appeal to staunch Levellers fans. Accompanied by a music video where great costumes and thoughtful storytelling are let down by wobbly camerawork, this is a neat little introduction to the band, but as a regular ChainDLK reader I’d certainly want to know more about their remixes than their originals.

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